Monday, April 13, 2015

Hike 2015.026 -- Calico Trail, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, NV

Hiked Saturday, April 11. 26th hike of the year. Still not quite up on track to make 100 for the year, but it's still an attainable target, anyway.

This was my most recent hike, although older hikes have yet to be blogged.

Somewhat late start, as I drove in from the Los Angeles area that morning. As I recall, I started my hike at around 1:15pm. The weather was pleasantly seasonal--it's the short period of time that happens each spring or fall when you need neither the heater nor the air conditioner if you live here. I don't live here, but I remember the days I did live here.
On such a lovely spring day, and with a late start, the park was packed. Parking areas at the trailheads were overflowing on to the road. And, while I always claim not to be anti-social, I don't like my outdoor experiences to be quite so zoo-like. So I actually drove around the whole 13-mile scenic drive, found what might have been my preferred parking area to be full, and drove right back to the visitor center.

Because, it turns out, people have a rather herd-mentality. They drive to where they think they should, get out of their car, then either snap some pictures or head into the red rocks (usually ignoring what trails there may be).
So the irony is this: The largest single parking area in the park is at the visitor center. Probably most visitors to the park stop here. But, usually, it's just to pee, or ask questions, or get maps, books, or souvenirs. So, if you actually start a hike from here, within 100 yards of leaving the visitor center, you're usually pretty much on your own.

Oh, sure, the cars are still within earshot. But the trails will provide some quantum of solitude.

So, after my vehicular circumna-vigation of the park, I began my hike back near the fee station.

I'd hiked from here before, so I already knew the potential for good wildflower viewing could be found along this trail. Except, last time, I lost the trail not long after passing the Calico Hills II access point, so I didn't mind a return engagement.
And, besides, not having had a chance for many desert wildflower walks so far this year, I was game for getting one or two more in before the dog days of summer set in for good.
Many wild-flowers were visible from the road, so I was confident the walk would be scenic, flower-wise. The desert mallow and desert daisies were everywhere--not as thick as when you go to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve (which I had visited a few weeks previous to this), but they were rather prolific. It had been a pretty wet winter for the Las Vegas Valley, and, though I feared it might have already been too late, I did, at least, manage to catch the tail-end of the wildflower season.
I also saw some other common Mojave Desert sights, such as goldfields and sage, plus a bit of lupine. But I was also pleasantly surprised to see Mariposa lilies. Perhaps I should not have been, since they are apparently common all across the Mojave. But my first encounter with them was in Griffith Park, near Burbank Peak. So I'm always pleasantly surprised to see this (oxymoronically) showy, yet understated flower in the wild.
Also common on this hike were Indian paintbrush and prickly pear. Finally, near the end of my outbound leg were numerous Mojave aster, their petals translucent in the afternoon sun. I love that flower.

And, with many of these flowers set against a red sandstone background, or a grey limestone background, or the blue sky of the desert, I had a photographer's field day.

I also enjoyed the sights of the twisted and painted sandstone that gives Red Rock Canyon its name. Even in the absence of wild-flowers, the place is a scenic place to hike. The flowers are just a seasonal bonus.

From the fee station, the Calico Trail more or less parallels the scenic loop road, and cars are generally not more than 100 horizontal yards away from you.

However, because of the topography, the cars are often either well below you or well above you. In the latter case, their sight and sound is completely blocked by the grass-covered hills to your left (on the way out).
As noted above, that's what gives you your measure of solitude, even as hundreds of cars are streaming by on the pavement. It's only when you pass an access point that you're immersed in the sight and sounds of a clogged parking area and a crush of humanity.
Then, five minutes later, you've left the parking area and most hikers have headed straight off into the red rock. So, again, you're mostly alone as you trail continues to parallel the road.
I would be surprised if, excluding the 100 yards closest to each parking area, I crossed paths (came wihtin less than 100 yards of) with more than 20 people during my four hours or so on the trail.

During those four hours, I shot 266 pictures. Yeah, that's a lot. Partially, that's because of how little I know about manipulating pictures after you take them. So, instead, I do my bracketing of exposures in the field, and work on either getting my backlighting or my color saturation correct by adjusting my shutter speeds or aperture settings.

That means I'll sometimes have a half-dozen similarly-framed shots of the same subject. I'll just keep tweaking the exposure settings until I'm happy with the result. Others, instead, shoot in RAW format, then work on the exposure stuff on their computer. But, for now, I'm too lazy to do that.
Besides, sometimes, in taking my similar shots, something special and unexpected will happen.

For example, in the photo immediately above, a jogger has "photobombed" my image. Oh, you can hardly see him--he's some distance off. Even if you click on the image to make the picture larger, you'll barely see him. Yet, it turns out, he's exactly where the famous "rule of thirds" would have you place your point of interest.
I didn't plan it that way, but I obviously put myself in a position that this could happen. I mean I saw the jogger before I tripped the shutter, but, for me, I just wanted to get the exposure right before taking my "real" picture. Yet, it turns out, this picture just "worked" better than my other similar shots of this scene. So there you have it.

When I got to near that red rock out-cropping in the distance of my "jogger" picture, I took the shot adjacent to these words.

I composed the shot and was happy with it, and tripped the shutter. It wasn't until I got home until I figured out what my unconscious already knew: This shot had converging lines, all drawing your eyes to the same distant point.
Even without knowing why, the picture just happened.

Right around there, I saw that it was now about 4:30pm, and I needed to turn around if I was to get back by 6pm. About five miles for the day, one I got back. Covered the ground slow, because I took a lot of pictures. And I had a ball, doing it!

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